Movie Diary 8/30/2020

And Then We Danced (Levan Akin, 2019). This is the Georgian film that caused civic unrest when it played in that country, not merely because its lead characters are gay, but because apparently homosexuality “does not exist” in Georgia. Uh-huh. It turns out to be a terrific movie, alive to specific youthful energies and the hothouse world of dance (it’s about two male dancers who find each other in the very hidebound tradition of Georgian dance). The two leads, Levan Gelbakhiani and Bachi Valishvili, are both terrific.

The Friday (8/28/2020)

Rian Gordon, Viraj Juneja, Lewis Gribben, Samuel Bottomley: Get Duked! (Brian Sweeney/Amazon Studios)

My review for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

Get Duked! “A little like an Ealing film colliding with a gonzo Ben Wheatley picture.”

This week I wrote an obituary for the Seattle Times about Darryl Macdonald, the co-founder of the Seattle International Film Festival (and later executive director of the Palm Springs film fest). A memorable character in the Seattle movie universe, Darryl was 70 – an age he would not have admitted.

Tomorrow, Saturday August 29, we’ll resume our semester of Scarecrow Academy, via Zoom. Our subject is “The Art in Horror: Horror and the Director,” and we pick up with a discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Please watch the movie beforehand! We’ll convene at 2 p.m. Pacific Time; information about registration here.

At Parallax View, we continue to re-visit reviews from 20 years ago, in the 2000 Eyes Project. My pieces this week are on Antoine Fuqua’s Bait, an unlikely thriller with Jami Foxx, and Robert Redford’s dewy The Legend of Bagger Vance, with Will Smith and Matt Damon.

More reviews at my other blog, What a Feeling!, direct from the 1980s to you. Behold: Martha Coolidge’s Joy of Sex, a misfired National Lampoon production; Penny Marshall’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, the first “vehicle” for Whoopi Goldberg; Howard Zieff’s The Dream Team, led by Michael Keaton; Bill D’Elia’s The Feud, a small-town comedy with Stanley Tucci; and Sam Shepard’s Far North, another small-town comedy, with Jessica Lange.

Also, I published a novel this week: Hateful Deeds, a political black comedy. Download it for free this weekend to your Kindle.

Movie Diary 8/26/2020

Get Duked! (Ninian Doff, 2019). Dark comedy with a Most Dangerous Game vibe, as four Scottish teens are thrown into the Highlands on an outdoors challenge. Danger awaits in the form of – well, best let the crackpot concept unfold on its own. The movie pushes toward the obvious, but it’s awfully funny at times. (full review 8/28)

The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963). The subject of our next meeting in Scarecrow Academy, a course devoted this year to “The Art in Horror: Horror and the Director.” We meet online via Zoom at 2 p.m. Pacific Time, Saturday August 29. Check the details and register here.

Movie Diary 8/27/2020

Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda, 2017). A quiet, sad, memorable film, which I’m sorry I hadn’t caught up with before. It all takes place in a beach house, where holograms (or something like that) take the place of the departed; in the first example of an artificial incarnation, a widow (Lois Smith) converses with an entity that resembles her husband (Jon Hamm), albeit from a younger age. All the actors are focused and dialed-in, including Geena Davis and Tim Robbins. It’s very good to see actors have an opportunity to do some acting – a statement that may seem obvious, but a phenomenon that has become rare. Beautiful sound design for the film – the ocean provides eerie white noise below many scenes – with music by Mica Levi.

The Lost Angel (Der Verlorene Engel, 1966/71). East German film that looks at the sculptor Ernst Barlach, following him during a day in 1937 when one of his “degenerate” sculptures has been removed from its place in a cathedral. An interesting stab at an avant-garde approach, as the movie relies heavily on voiceover musings and stark shots of Barlach’s work. The irony is thick, because the East Germans found the film to be decadent, and banned it until it was released in a cut form in ’71.

Movie Diary 8/24/2020

Paris When It Sizzles (Richard Quine, 1964). Did Charlie Kaufman see this movie at an impressionable age? The scenario by George Axelrod puts drunky screenwriter William Holden in a room in Paris with secretary Audrey Hepburn, where he must hammer out a script in two days. As he spins the yarn, we see the variations enacted by Holden and Hepburn. The problems are built into the concept, and it probably didn’t help the movie’s box-office chances that it makes fun of the audience’s expectations. But there are some really funny things in it, and Hepburn has some great put-on moments. Tony Curtis, uncredited, plays a Method actor. Holden makes fun of the Prostitute with a Heart of Gold trope, referring to it as “P with an H of G.” A nutty film.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (Nancy Kates, Bennett Singer, 2003). A well-managed POV documentary about the civil-rights organizer, a fascinating fellow whose sexual orientation made it inconvenient to always include him in the front ranks of the movement. And yet he conceived and organized the March on Washington in 1963.

Movie Diary 8/23/2020

I forgot to post the winner of the FIPRESCI prize at the 44th Hong Kong International Film Festival. The festival itself was canceled because of the pandemic, but the slate was nevertheless announced, and awards given.

Our FIPRESCI jury – a jury of international film critics – gave our award to Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, a film from Lesotho. Our jury statement can be read here: https://www.hkiff.org.hk/news/detail?id=623

The Friday (8/21/2020)

Ethan Hawke: Tesla (IFC Films)
Ethan Hawke: Tesla (IFC Films)

My review for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

Tesla. “a postmodern jamboree, a spiky collection of biographical tidbits and fourth-wall-busting asides, an essay masquerading as a biopic.”

We re-start Scarecrow Academy with virtual meetings via Zoom; we’d gotten halfway through our “The Art in Horror: Horror and the Director” semester when the pandemic hit. See here for details, and this site’s Upcoming Events page. First up: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, at 2 p.m. Pacific Time August 29.

The 2000 Eyes project, in which the films of the year 2000 are recalled, continues to roll out at Parallax View. My contribution this week is a piece on Isaac Eaton’s Shadow Hours, a noirish number with touches of “mondo” and a good role for Peter Weller.

More 80s reviews at my other website, What a Feeling! For your consideration this week: Daniel Petrie’s Square Dance, a coming-of-age piece that introduced Winona Ryder (and snagged Rob Lowe a Golden Globe, and yes, you should take that for what it’s worth); Don Bluth’s An American Tail, the Spielberg-produced animated classic; Fred Walton’s The Rosary Murders, with Donald Sutherland as a priest who knows too much; Diane Kurys’ A Man in Love, an autobiographical story about a young actress’s affair with a self-centered movie star (allegedly based on Donald Sutherland, played by Peter Coyote here); and James Ivory’s Maurice, the Merchant Ivory follow-up to A Room with a View, adapted from E.M. Forster’s novel of hidden gay lives.

Movie Diary 8/17/2020

Tesla (Michael Almereyda, 2020). Ethan Hawke doing very muted work as the famous inventor, in a mucho postmodern version of his world (as opposed to the more traditional 2019 release The Current War). The movie is told from the perspective of J. P. Morgan’s daughter Anne (Eve Hewson), who died in 1952 but works from a laptop here. Some fun casting, including Kyle MacLachlan as Thomas Edison (yup, that works) and Jim Gaffigan as George Westinghouse (same). (full review 8/21)

Movie Diary 8/16/2020

The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick, 1951). Alec Guinness as an inventor who concocts a formula for an everlasting fabric, only to realize the implications of his creation for business, labor, and society. Or maybe he doesn’t realize them; this is one of those otherworldly Guinness performances that exists in its own vacuum. There’s one early moment, when a door opens on Guinness and he hides behind it, with only his fingers showing on the edge of the door, that is a quintessential Guinness image – a recessive presence, just barely visible. “Still rather luminous,” as he says of his glowing white suit.

Two Men in Manhattan (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1959). A curious one from Melville, about two Frenchmen (he plays a newspaperman, Pierre Grasset plays an amoral photographer) looking for a missing diplomat in New York. Some of it plays like a European’s light-dazzled travelogue of nighttime Manhattan, some of it a film noir pastiche; until you get to the final reels, little of it plays like top-drawer Melville. There’s no feel for the English language, especially. The noir dames are interesting, if strictly types. But then it’s all types.

The Friday (8/14/2020)

Jazz_Still_3

Dinah Washington, Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Kino Lorber)

My review for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

Jazz on a Summer’s Day. “It’s impossible to find a bad or uninteresting person on screen here; maybe people just looked cooler then.”

We are still rolling out titles in the 2000 Eyes project at the Parallax View website. The project presents a collection of Seattle-oriented authors writing about movies from the year 2000; my contribution this week is a piece on Robert Zemeckis’s What Lies Beneath.

And at What a Feeling!, I’ve got more vintage reviews from the 1980s, a truly odd assortment of the intriguing and the forgotten, including: a double review of Alan Bridges’ The Shooting Party and Paul Verhoeven’s Flesh + Blood (they have nothing in common except having played at the Seattle International Film Festival that year); Robert Mandel’s Big Shots, an action-comedy with kids, written by Joe Eszterhas; David Green’s Buster, with Phil Collins starring in a comedic rendering of the Great Train Robbery and its aftermath; Peter Omrod’s Eat the Peach, a whimsical Irish film about two guys who build a motorcycle-riding Wall of Death after seeing the Elvis Presley picture Roustabout; and Peter Medak’s The Men’s Club, an all-star bull session that strenuously tried to compare itself to The Big Chill and The Breakfast Club.